A touch of glamour has lately been bestowed upon the Mooloolaba dining scene.
Cellar Door on First, opened in July last year, is not your average restaurant – and it’s more than just the menu people are raving about.
With its exposed recycled brick walls, cool black and white photographs of all things wine, heavy timber tables, black leather seats, and a stunning chandelier as a centrepiece, the vibe is relaxed yet upmarket glitz. There’s even a bar made from natural stalactites.
But let’s not forget the main attraction: the food – or is it the wine? You may come for one or the other, but you’ll discover that the two are equal stars of the same show.
As the restaurant’s name suggests, the wine list is definitely one of the main attractions and it doesn’t disappoint. As well as some of Australia’s finest tipples on offer, there is an extensive international selection of wines from France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, New Zealand and the US. A nice selection of local craft beers and some fun cocktails make sure everyone is catered for.
Head chef Nathan Rumble – trained in Sydney, and with an impressive resume that includes stints at some of the Sunshine Coast’s best-known eateries – has created a menu that not only complements the wine list, but is also a star in its own right. He describes Cellar Door on First’s food as a blend of components with South American, Asian and Spanish influences; familiar ingredients presented in unfamiliar and exciting combinations.
“The food is different,” says Nathan. “It made no sense for us to open another restaurant in Mooloolaba serving the same thing as everyone else. We’ve made a point of being a little bit left field.”
While the dishes may be internationally inspired, the ingredients are distinctly local.
“I use as many Australian and local ingredients as possible. All of our seafood is Australian and local – a lot of the fish is from up and down the coast of Queensland. The scallops are from Hervey Bay, and I use Moreton Bay Bugs, Mooloolaba prawns, and sustainably fished octopus from Mooloolaba.
“All our providores are local. We use Cotton Tree Meats, Sunshine Coast Oyster Service and Mooloolah River Fisheries. I use a couple of Brisbane-based companies for some of my imported cheeses and olives, but we have growers in the hinterland and Noosa: pineapples and strawberries from Beerburrum and the Glass House Mountains. We’re really fortunate to be spoilt for choice.”
Some of the delights on the menu include scallop dumplings with duck ham, pink ginger, enoki and green tea dashi; Moreton Bay bug kiev with seaweed butter and kimchi; and beef rib with chimichurri, cowboy rice and pico de gallo. Dessert is by no means forgotten. In fact, it’s one of Nathan’s specialities.
“The one thing that’s quite often overlooked on a lot of menus is dessert,” he says. “It’s often an afterthought. We put a bit of focus on the dessert side of things – it’s the last thing people have before they leave.”
Two of the standouts on the dessert menu are bombe alaska – a version of which Nathan calls a “new school interpretation of an old classic” – and a mango pudding with coconut, tapioca, lychee, and sesame.
For those who want to really expand their taste buds, there is an eight-course degustation menu – with matching wines, of course – that includes a goats’ cheese croquette with mushroom aioli and truffle salt; jerk-spiced quail with corn, serrano ham, buttermilk and cucumber; and a Fraser Island spanner crab tart with miso custard and avocado. There’s also a vegetarian degustation option that is proving popular, and with everything made from scratch on site, diners can be assured of the ingredients’ utmost integrity.
“We make everything here, so we know exactly what goes into the sauces,” says Nathan. “Everything comes in the back door in its raw form, and we transform it.”
With the setting, wine and food taken care of, what more could you possibly ask for?
Great service, of course – that vital element that can make a dining experience go either way. Cellar Door on First delivers in spades.
“For us, it’s not about serving hundreds and hundreds of people a day; it’s more about quality,” says Nathan. “The service staff here are great; they make all the guests feel special. The wait staff are very well trained and a lot of them are mature – they’ve travelled the world, they’ve eaten some great food, drunk some good wine. And they pass that on. They remember names, favourite tables, what someone drank last time.
“I think it’s the combined experience that makes this place special. It’s the whole package in a nice environment, where people are comfortable and relaxed.
“It’s the little bits and pieces that turn a good dining experience into a great dining experience.”